Taapsee Pannu on pushing the envelope with Badla and using her position to choose films wisely
Taapsee Pannu says her struggle in the film industry will be over when she stops getting replaced by other influential actors
In Sujoy Ghosh-directed Badla, that appears to be an intriguing murder mystery, Taapsee Pannu’s character (Naina Sethi) is accused of murdering her paramour, and while she’s trying to defend herself, her lawyer, played by Amitabh Bachchan (once again) raises three questions that stump her. The entire guessing game has been an exciting ride for Taapsee, who has nailed almost every role, whether it’s playing a sexual assault victim in Pink, a secret agent in Naam Shabana, or a formidable lawyer in Mulk.
“With Naina, you will never come to know whether she is showing her real side or the side that she wants to show to the world. That was very interesting for me to play. The audience will be left wondering when she tells the truth. She has four to five cards and she plays them as per her own advantage and she opens those cards when she wants to. The trick is, transition from one card to another which has to be done gradually (by an actor). That becomes tricky in such films. I have tried to push the envelope further with Badla. But that was precisely the reason why I did it because half the job is done when you are excited about your role,” says Taapsee, adding, “Initially my role was written for a guy but then I requested the producers to swap it and allow me to do it.”
A remake of the 2016 Spanish film, Contratiempo (The Invisible Guest) and shot at a stretch in Scotland, Badla reunites Taapsee with Bachchan, who plays her lawyer. “Though our chemistry in Badla is totally different, there is that comfort level that has helped. This film shows two people (Bachchan and Taapsee’s characters) talking and discussing what happened, or what might have happened. They are the ones who get the maximum screen time. So, it was very crucial to have good chemistry otherwise the audience would not be able to connect with us, or our conversation. Also, the shooting process became easy and we could deliver straight away,” said Taapsee.
“Yes, Mr Bachchan is again playing a lawyer, but in Pink he struggles and comes into his element only towards the end. In Badla, he is in form right from the beginning. This girl is also very different, he is not Godlike for her. She has given him money to fight her case. The case may be going against her but she is not a victim, she is in authority. She is a strong, self-made business woman who has raised her empire independently in Scotland. She will not be down so easily, so our character sketch has changed but that lawyer-client part is the same,” said Taapsee, and considering that she has been part of three to four films that dealt with legal issues and courtroom scenes, the actress jokes, “If Badla works, then my middle name will become ‘court’ (laughs).”
With the humongous success of Kahaani, Sujoy had raised the bar in the suspense/thriller genre, and hence, he was the obvious choice for the film but the director was a bit skeptical in the beginning, and while Taapsee tried convincing him to wield the baton, she failed in doing so. Interestingly, Sujoy and Taapsee have been planning to collaborate for the last three years. “Badla is a typical Sujoy Ghosh film. It has all the ingredients of a Sujoy film in terms of suspense, thrill and a strong female protagonist. But at that time, he wasn’t too sure if the film was in his zone. I tried persuading him, but he was not giving a go ahead. After three to four months, I learnt that Mr Bachchan and Sujoy were collaborating on it,” said Taapsee, who is an addict to murder mysteries. “I love this genre but I don’t remember the last whodunit thriller that I watched. So the Badla kind of a thriller is coming after a long time and the most interesting part of the film is that the audience will get totally involved in playing the guessing game; they will be sitting like a judge. You will argue with yourself in your head, what was right and what was wrong. Hence, suspense thrillers and murder mysteries have remained a successful genre,” she says.
It has been just few years since Taapsee made a transition from down South to Bollywood and the actress is being flooded with offers giving her the freedom to choose. She has four releases this year, after Badla, her next is Tamil-Telugu bilingual and a house invasion thriller which will be her first female protagonist film in South. Then there is Akshay Kumar’s space drama, Mission Mangal, followed by Anurag Kashyap’s Saand Ki Aankh (along with Bhumi Pednekar), in the last quarter. “I am using my position to choose films that I really want to do and I am also getting good roles,” says Taapsee, who has always maintained that being an outsider has its plus points. “Yes, I see it as an advantage. There are disadvantages as well, but I knew that right from the beginning. Despite that, I chose to enter the film industry. There is a rule book and you have to work around those rules. I am fine with it,” she adds.
The actress, who's known for calling a spade a spade, continues, “People are more welcoming till the time you are a success story; they are accommodating even if you fail, but the outsiders still have a longer route; they keep struggling. It's not like if one film works, everything is sorted for them. I feel more comfortable than before but I don’t feel my struggle is over yet. My struggle will be over the day I stop getting replaced because so and so called and recommended someone else’s name. My struggle will be over the day the choice of an actor will be based on their credentials and talent and not who they are. My struggle will be over when I'll have a say in working with a particular director, and I am not told, 'Sorry, we have already decided who will play this part,'"
Taapsee is also happy about the fact that Badla is releasing on the International Women’s Day (8 March). “The film shows a very strong female character. Though there are a lot of talks on whether there is a need to celebrate this one day, I feel we should celebrate until equality between both the genders sets in. This should also be the day when we take that one step of bringing a change. My character is on par with the male protagonist in Badla, so this is my way of taking that one step in that direction. It is time now to have an equal role,” says Taapsee.
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